“Take two of these and call me in the morning.” You’ve most likely heard this before, and immediately recognized it as a conversation between a doctor and her patient. Not too long ago, that was pretty much the endpoint of a longstanding life sciences model. Patients had absolute trust in their healthcare providers (HCPs) and little visibility into the decision-making process of their care. It was a situation of information asymmetry—where life sciences companies had a wealth of information, and patients had very little.

Back in the day, the sales rep and HCP model was a transactional approach of pushing product promotion, with a greater percentage of marketing and medical efforts geared towards the scientific and medical communities. Not anymore. Today, that information asymmetry has flipped. The wealth of information and choice at a consumer’s fingertips is driving all businesses to become more customer focused. Life sciences organizations have followed suit with a “patient-centric” model, or they at least are working towards that goal.

Barriers to a patient-centric model for life sciences

For a life sciences organization to achieve a true patient-centered model, the first line of action is to assess the level and maturity of its internal collaboration. Is marketing still the driving force of what gets out, when it gets out, and on what channels? Are the marketing analytics and feedback data shared across the spectrum of functions that support marketing and sales activities? Are siloed organizations leading to siloed ownership of customers, resulting in a diminished value proposition for customer-centric engagement?

Until the organization understands how cross-functional teams work, how information flows and how feedback happens, a patient-centered goal is unlikely to be achieved fully. Let’s look at some information flow challenges from the perspective of three personas: patients, HCPs, and commercial life sciences organizations.

  • Patients today have a wide range of treatment options. Google is often that unqualified doctor that gets consulted before the real doctor is seen. Some treatments are complex and prescribed over long periods of time. Patients strive to understand their treatment plan and the associated costs. For all of these reasons, a patient today goes to the physician armed with information and questions.
  • HCPs have become knowledge seekers with a vested interest in the latest and most reliable clinical research and real-world evidence. Their interest has shifted from product features to clinical data. They also have many channels from which to seek information. Time is a luxury and a key for success for life sciences is building trust with HCPs. An informed (or often misinformed) patient means that physicians need to be better prepared to answer a wide range of questions. Are life sciences organizations fully equipping their physicians to serve the well-researched patient?
  • Commercial organizations still work in some siloed way. Marketing does its marketing and medical runs the key opinion leader (KOL) and scientific area. Marketing and medical objectives often don’t intersect as much as they should. There still is room for agility in cross-functional collaboration to address the patient’s true need. R&D organizations can benefit from real-world, evidence-based data discussions that often drive strategic planning.

To address these three areas of challenges, there needs to be a culture of strong internal collaboration.

Five key steps for internal collaboration

First, organizations need to assess the current mode of working across the organization, supporting systems and feedback. Are functional areas working in parallel rather than collaborating?

Second, truly understanding who sits in the center of the system will drive strategic actions. Do organizations consider the HCPs as the main customer, or is it the patient? How one answers that question will determine how internal organizations work. Does anyone in the organization own any of the customers? Medical and marketing both must have a vested interest in the HCPs and patients. The traditional thinking of medical-to-medical or marketing to patients leads to protective behaviors within organizations and generates less value to outputs such as really knowing the customer, what they want and how they impact the bigger ecosystem in which they serve or participate. Defining the approach and messaging must be a collaborative event.

Third, organizations must determine how teams learn from each other across the globe. How can all functions access different market learnings to adopt or shape their own approach?

Fourth, assessing the utilization and skill sets of Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) and sales reps is imperative. How are the two areas deployed across the different stages of HCP interaction and for what purpose? Are MSLs now more important than ever to engage with customers and bring back valuable data in-house? What is the value proposition for customer engagement? Is it aligned across marketing, medical, sales, etc.? To which customers? Via what channels? Are life sciences organizations truly keeping the patient agenda top of mind?

Fifth and finally, is the need to evaluate the internal communication model. Is it the usual top-down approach where valuable insights are blocked at some level from traveling upwards? Is the 360 feedback loop open and functioning? 

An organizational assessment to identify pathways to break the silos in internal collaboration, as well as gathering and sharing data and communication modes, can help define stronger engagement strategies targeted to patient needs regardless of the medium. 

At CGI, our approach to patient-centered design is part of our broader design thinking practice. I invite you to read more in our viewpoint Getting unstuck: traction for transformation about how design thinking and other innovative approaches are helping organizations transform in a digital world.

Download Getting unstuck: traction for transformation

About this author

Picture of Rehana Wolfe

Rehana Wolfe

Director of Consulting Services

Rehana is a Director Consulting Expert in the Life Sciences sector where she helps clients assess and develop business strategies that deliver growth, prioritize strategic and technology solutions for go-to market strategies. She has over 15 years of global biopharmaceutical experience spanning across geographies and ...

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